Sharing the gift of life: Local couple in need of organ transplant raises organ donor awareness
by WILLIAM WRIGHT
Apr 18, 2012 | 3131 views | 0 0 comments | 32 32 recommendations | email to a friend | print
JIM AND SARAH JONES moved from Macon, Ga., to Cleveland in December 1989. The 55-year-old businessman said he was the picture of health until his bout with kidney cancer in 2002-03 and the discovery of stage 3 hepatitis-C, which has damaged his liver. Today, Jim and Sarah said they are committed to raising awareness about the need for more organ donors. The couple is seen posing with their two grandsons, Charlie, 2, and Wills, 4, in 2010.
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Today, more than 113,000 Americans await an organ transplant with more than 17,000 awaiting liver transplants in the U.S. Jim Jones of Cleveland is on that organ transplant list.

But he and his wife, Sarah, are not just waiting for a lifesaving liver transplant. They are raising awareness about the importance of becoming an organ donor and saving lives. Their proactive approach to organ donation is helping to change the landscape of how many people view donating organs and tissues in lifesaving treatments.

Jim, co-owner of Dick Jones and Associates, Inc. in Cleveland, a manufacturer’s representative company that caters to the needs of the agricultural industry, said he realized he needed a liver transplant after a blood test revealed he had hepatitis-C, an infectious disease affecting primarily the liver.

“It’s my liver now, but it started with kidney cancer,” Jim said. “I was diagnosed with stage 3 renal cell carcinoma and had my left kidney removed on Jan. 2, 2003.”

According to Sarah, even after kidney surgery, Jim’s liver enzymes were still abnormal, extremely high, resulting in their doctors running more tests and discovering he also had stage 3 hepatitis-C.

According to Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, most patients have no symptoms and may not be aware they are infected with hepatitis-C. It is the leading cause of cirrhosis and liver cancer, and the most common reason for liver transplantation in the U.S.

Jim and Sarah said having specific blood work to detect the disease is vital and encouraged people to get tested for this “silent killer.”

“He was almost at stage 4 of hepatitis-C. That’s as high as it gets,” Sarah said. “So they started him on treatments immediately. He was supposed to be on it for a year, but he only made it three months before it started to shut his entire body down.”

“It took four or five years of treating the hepatitis with interferon and ribaviron treatments,” Jim added. “I wasn’t in any pain from the hepatitis-C. But once it started shutting down my liver — I was in trouble. Then the pain and the bad symptoms started coming.”

Today, Jim is in dire need of a liver transplant and must wait on a perfect match along with thousands of others who are at the mercy of those who are healthy enough to become organ donors.

“For 12 months Jim has been right at the top of the list because of his weight class in his blood group,” Sarah said. “His blood type is A-positive and it’s considered a rare match.”

Since the length of time a person waits for a new liver depends on blood type, body size and how soon the patient needs a transplant, the shortage of donor organs and people’s willingness to become organ donors makes every day a matter of life and death for people waiting on the organ donor list.

According to organdonor.gov., an average of 18 people will die each day while waiting for an organ, yet one organ donor can save up to eight lives.

With more than 113,000 people waiting on the organ transplant list — and each number represents a mom, a dad, a brother, a sister or a child, someone who is important to someone else — the Cleveland couple is hoping for more people to find it in their hearts to donate the gift of life, especially during April, which is National Donate Life Month.

“It’s the best gift you can give,” Jim said. “To me, anyone who sacrifices his life for his country is a hero. And anyone who sacrifices an organ to save a life is a hero. People have to understand that God does not want your organs. Leave them to save someone’s life. It’s the best gift you can give to somebody.”

“Families have to start talking about it,” Sarah added. “If we can save lives by giving an organ — that second gift of life — to us, that is what God wants us to do.”

Sarah has joined Facebook and is networking with several organizations and individuals to raise awareness, share stories and stop the shortage of organ donations by the end of 2012.

Jim, 55, whose national company is one of the oldest and most dependable suppliers of agricultural components to equipment manufacturers and parts distributors in the U.S., has expanded his own vision on what is important in life and the priority of getting more people to register as organ donors.

“Pass it on,” he advised. “You have friends. They have friends. Their friends have friends. One person can reach 100,000 people in 30 days on Facebook. We stopped worrying about when am I going to get an organ to raising awareness about saving lives by becoming organ donors. I want to get better so I can continue my journey of being Christ’s servant and help people with illnesses of all kinds.”

To learn more about organ and tissue donation and how to enroll in a donor registry, visit www.OrganDonor.gov.

For a list of commonly asked questions and myths regarding organ donations, visit the Mayo Clinic’s consumer health page at www.mayoclinic.com/health/organ-donation/FL00077.

For further information, contact Jim or Sarah Jones at 423-227-0267 or email: sjones8315@gmail.com; or contact Dawn Benjamin with Tennessee Donor Services at 651 E. Fourth St., Suite 402, Chattanooga, TN 37403 or phone: 423-756-5736.